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SCOTT DREYER: America’s Shame: Our National Debt

On Thursday, January 19, the US federal government reached its statutory debt limit of $31.4 trillion. Never before has the debt been that high, but among many there seems to be no sense of urgency. On that date, the House of Representatives and Senate were out of session, and it seems the Senate didn’t even start the year until Friday, February 3. On the official website it lists the Senate’s activity for that day as: “The Senate met at 11:00:05 a.m. in pro forma session, and adjourned at 11:00:47 a.m. until 3 p.m. on Tuesday, February 7, 2023.”

Unless I’m misreading something, it seems to indicate the Senate was in session for a whopping 42 seconds, just long enough to say “Let’s get back to work at 3:00 next Tuesday.”

Plus, curious as to what “pro forma” actually means, I checked the American Heritage Dictionary, which offers these 3 definitions:

  1. Done as a formality; perfunctory.
  2. Provided in advance so as to prescribe form or describe items.
  3. For the sake of form only.

So, while most Americans actually have to clock in at work and do something, the Senate’s pro forma day was an empty dog-and-pony show, just for appearances. This seemingly relaxing schedule that many in Congress keep inspired a few satirical Babylon Bee headlines in early January, while the House of Representatives was debating on choosing a new Speaker.

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How did we get into this mess, with a national debt of $31.4 trillion?  The short answer is, “one compromise at a time.”

Which party is responsible for this disgrace, the Democrats or Republicans?

The answer is a resounding YES!

Both parties have switched control of Congress and the White House in recent generations, and both have allowed the debt to keep ballooning.

Some historical perspective might be helpful using this chart from George Mason University. From the USA’s founding in 1776, our country’s debt didn’t hit $1 trillion until the Reagan (R) administration in the 1980s. Then, within a few years before Pres. Reagan left office, it doubled to about $2 trillion.

Pres. Bush Sr. (R) was in office only four years, but the debt about doubled again, from roughly $2 to $4 trillion.

The acceleration slowed somewhat during the eight Clinton (D) years. That was probably not so much due to discipline on Pres. Clinton’s part, but more because the USSR dissolved in 1991 and so for most of the 1990’s we thought we lived in a safe world and slowed down the growth of military spending compared to what it had been during the Cold War.

During the eight years of the Bush Jr. (R) administration, the debt about doubled again, from around $6 to $11 trillion. The 9-11 attacks and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were huge factors.

Under the eight years of the Obama (D) administration, it almost doubled again from $11.9 to $19.9 trillion.

During just four years of the Trump (R) presidency, it jumped from $19.9 to $26.9 trillion.

Today, as President Biden prepares to give only his second State of the Union Address, the debt stands at 31.5 trillion. (That breaks down to $94,315 per US citizen and $246,867 per US taxpayer.)

There were times, as I was dismissing my students from their classes at Roanoke City’s Patrick Henry High School, I’d encourage them in a cheery voice: “Work hard and do your homework tonight, kids! We’ll need your generation to be smart and work hard so you can pay off the huge debt we adults are running up right now!” (That was back when the figure was a “mere” $6-8 trillion, roughly one-fourth what it is now.)

Add to that America’s “abortion on demand” culture, and we’re literally killing millions of unborn Americans who would otherwise group up to help pay off our indebtedness.

If you’re like me, it’s hard to wrap our head around huge numbers, and frankly, it’s easy to get numb to it. This article “How many are millions, billions, trillions”* is helpful. Some excerpts:

  • One million is a 1 with six zeros after it, denoted by 1,000,000.
  • One million seconds is about 11 and a half days.
  • One million pennies stacked on top of each other would make a tower nearly a mile high.


  • One billion is a thousand millions.
  • One billion is a 1 with nine zeros after it, denoted by 1,000,000,000.
  • One billion seconds is about 32 years.
  • One billion pennies stacked on top of each other would make a tower almost 870 miles high.


  • One trillion is a thousand billions, or equivalently a million millions.
  • It is a 1 with 12 zeros after it, denoted by 1,000,000,000,000.
  • One trillion seconds is 32,000 years.
  • One trillion pennies stacked on top of each other would make a tower about 870,000 miles high—the same distance obtained by going to the moon, back to Earth, then to the moon again.

We’re hearing lots of Democrat politicians and media figures (basically two sides of the same coin) telling us to “avoid the drama” and “just raise the debt limit.” Now that there is a (slim) GOP majority in the House of Representatives, maybe we can start to claw back some financial sanity. Yes, Republicans in the past have voted to raise the limit again and again, giving many GOP voters the feeling of Charlie Brown running to kick the football just as Lucy pulls it away again. However, “it’s always the right time to do the right thing.”

How does this relate to our daily lives? All this debt spending and creating money out of thin air is a big reason we have the huge inflation we’re seeing. More dollars in circulation equals less value per greenback. Plus, it’s helping drive up interest rates. How will young adults or future generations be able to buy a house if rates stay sky-high?

Lastly, many have been up in arms about the Chinese spy balloon that the Biden administration allowed to traverse the US from Alaska to Myrtle Beach, as well we should. However, many national security experts claim our national debt is the biggest threat to our long-term peace, prosperity and security.

Why not raise the debt limit again?

Why not give the town drunk another fifth of whiskey?

Why not give the man with a 90% blocked “widowmaker” another double-cheeseburger with bacon, onion rings and a milkshake?


*Taylor, Courtney. “Millions, Billions, and Trillions.” ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020,

–Scott Dreyer

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